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At NUS and the world at large, the relevance and importance of cultivating EQ continues to grow. To increase awareness and prompt discussion among our readers, we are pleased in this issue of CDTL Brief to present several informed perspectives on the subject of EQ.

March 1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Emotional Intelligence and Careers
Asst Prof Tey Tsun Hang
Faculty of Law


The workplace is changing, and changing fast. It is no longer just how smart we are, by our professional training and expertise, which determines success in careers. Today, more than ever, personal qualities like initiative, empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness feature prominently. Whatever the career, understanding how to cultivate these capabilities is essential for success.

New Environment

Companies today do not just compete on products alone anymore. It is becoming more important to manage the people in the company well. Massive change is constant. The pace of technical innovations, global competition and the pressures from investors are forces that compel change. Organisations trim and downsize. Job security has been much weakened. The people who remain are made to be more visible and more accountable.

This is the price we pay for a dynamic economy. Economists tell us that as the economy moves to a high-tech, service-based stage of development, labour market flexibility is here to stay, and becoming ever more prominent. And that brings about fear, apprehension and confusion for everyone. Instead of ‘job for life’, it is now about having a suitable job for the present bag of skills one has at any stage of personal development.

Maintaining higher wages across the board also demands a new kind of productivity. Structural fixes or technological advances are no longer the complete picture for success takes more than intellectual excellence or technical prowess. Competencies like managing one’s emotions, handling encounters well, teamwork and leadership, count more than ever. Team building, adaptability to change and new challenges all demand new talents and competencies, as well as internal qualities, like initiative, optimism and adaptability.

We already see more and more job advertisements that feature requirements like listening and oral communication; adaptability and creativity in responses; confidence and motivation; co-operation, teamwork and interpersonal skills; and leadership potential and skills at negotiation. Academic competence is naturally required, but constitutes only a relatively small part of the picture.

Success in Careers Takes More Than IQ

Law, engineering, medicine, and MBA graduates will find it more important to have a high competence level in emotional intelligence. We know that university admission policy for professional degrees is generally very selective, focusing almost exclusively on intellectual abilities. One needs a certain threshold competence to get into such courses, research showing the entry level to be within the range of 110 and 120 in IQ. Once someone jumps over that strict barrier, he/she is going to find himself/herself surrounded by colleagues within the top 10 - 12% of intelligence.

Technical expertise and professional education are like a baseline cut-off point determining if you can get the job. Thus, IQ does not offer much competitive edge in careers. Once you are in, it is the other competencies, such as emotional intelligence, that you bring to your professional expertise, which to a great extent, determine your performance. And the higher hierarchy one occupies in an organisation, a higher level of emotional intelligence is required.

Personal Competence

Emotional competence can be grouped into personal competence and social competence. Personal competencies, like self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation, determine how we manage ourselves.

Emotional awareness occurs when we recognise how various emotions shape what we perceive, think and do. Our feelings are always with us. However, we are too seldom aware of them. Instead, we typically are aware of emotions only when they build up and boil over.

That awareness therefore, can be advantageously used to fine-tune on-the-job performance of every kind, managing our unruly feelings, keeping ourselves motivated, tuning in with accuracy to the feelings of those around us, and developing good work-related social skills, including those essential for leadership and teamwork.

Except for the financially desperate, people do not work for money alone. What also fuels our enthusiasm for work is a larger sense of purpose or passion. Given the opportunity, people take jobs that give them meaning, that which engage to their fullest their commitment, talent, energy and skill. The less aware we are of what makes us passionate, the more lost we are. Self-awareness, therefore, offers us the chance to keep our career decisions in harmony with our deepest values.

Self-confidence is necessary for superior performance. Without it, people lack the conviction essential for taking on tough challenges. The absence of self-confidence can manifest itself in feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and self-doubt. In contrast, self-confident people see themselves as efficacious, able to take on challenges and to master new jobs and skills. Not just skill alone, but also a belief in our skills can guarantee our best performance.

Self-regulation would include managing one’s internal impulses and the ability to keep disruptive emotions in check. When stresses pile together, they seem to multiply the sense of pressure. If stress is sustained, the likely result is burnout or worse. However, resilient people, who are optimistic and action-oriented, have a remarkably rapid recovery from stress. If something goes wrong in their lives, they immediately start to think about how to make it better.

When we are preoccupied by emotionally driven thoughts and under the sway of impulse, agitation and emotionality, our ability to think, work, learn or adapt suffers. However, self-control boosts our ability to stay committed and upbeat, feel in control, and be challenged rather than threatened by stress. In fact, with the right emotional resources, what seems threatening by others can be taken instead as a challenge, and met with energy, and enthusiasm.
Emotional intelligence also underpins motivation. Motivation here means that achievement drive, the drive towards excellence, the commitment, having initiative, and a high dose of optimism, in the face of setbacks and obstacles. To reach the top, people must love what they do and find pleasure in doing it. Emotions are what fuel our motivations, and our motives in turn drive our perceptions and shape our actions. For star performers, excellence and pleasure come together.

Social Competence

Social competencies, such as empathy and social skills, determine how well we handle relationships. Sensing what others feel without their saying so captures the essence of empathy. Social skills would include influence, communication, conflict management, leadership, building bonds, collaboration, co-operation and teamwork.

At the very least, empathy requires being able to read another’s emotions. At a higher level, it entails sensing and responding to a person’s unspoken concerns or feelings. And at the highest levels, empathy is about understanding the issues or concerns that lie behind another’s feelings. Unless we have self-awareness, it will be difficult to be conscious of others’ emotional terrain.

Empathy is essential as an emotional guidance system, helping us to get along well at work. Particularly in business dealings, understanding how someone feels leads to more skilful negotiation and management. As a result, tough decisions may generate less resentment and lasting ill will for the other parties. Also, the ability to read what the market wants means empathising with customers and then developing the products that suit their needs.

Star performers are artful at sending emotional signals, which makes them powerful communicators, able to sway an audience. Emotions are an extremely efficient mode of communication. The essence of eloquent, passionate, spirited communication involves the use of facial expressions, voices, gestures and body movements to transmit emotions. People who have this emotional adeptness are better able to move and inspire others, and captivate their imagination. For instance, people wielding effective tactics for persuasion are able to sense or even anticipate their audience’s reaction to their message and can effectively carry someone along towards an intended goal.

One talent of those skilled at conflict resolution is spotting trouble as it is brewing and taking steps to clam those involved. Here, the arts of listening and empathising are crucial. Diplomacy and tact are qualities crucial for success in touchy jobs like auditing and mediation as any negotiation is an emotionally charged event. The ability to read the opposition’s feelings during a negotiation is critical to success. Resolution requires that each side be able to understand the others’ viewpoint as well as their needs and fears. Obviously, skill at negotiation matters for excellence in professions like law and diplomacy. Yet, to some extent, everyone who works in an organisation needs these abilities. Those who can resolve conflict and head off troubles are the kind of peacemakers vital to any organisation.

Leadership Skills

Leadership entails exciting people’s imaginations and inspiring them to move in a desired direction. It takes more than simple power to motivate and lead. The artful leader is attuned to the subtle undercurrents of emotions that pervade a group, and can read the impact of his actions on those currents. One way leaders establish their credibility is by sensing these collective, unspoken feelings and articulating them for the group, or acting in a way that tacitly shows they are understood.

Today, organisations are reshuffling, divesting, merging, and going global. The acceleration of change through the 1990s and into the 21st century has made the ability to lead a newly ascendant competence. More and more companies are putting premium on people who can lead.

Change & Collaboration

Today, change is constant. Inflexible people are ruled by fear, anxiety and a deep personal discomfort with change. People competent in adaptability relish change and find exhilaration in innovation. They are open to new information, and can let go of old assumptions, and so innovate and adapt the way they operate.

Yet, the act of innovation is both cognitive and emotional. Coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act. But realising its value, nurturing it and following it through calls on emotional competencies like self-confidence, initiative, persistence and the ability to persuade. Examples are everywhere, showing how risk taking and the drive to pursue innovative ideas is the fuel that stokes the entrepreneurial spirit.

Today, the paradigm of invention, even in science, is changing its focus from the individual to collaboration. In fields of complex modern technology and business, we are in an era where ideas of a single person seldom lead to significant progress. Indeed, adapting nimbly to shifting market realities requires a collective creativity, which in turn necessitates people to be comfortable with uncertainty at every level of a company.

Cutting-edge knowledge grows through orchestrated, collaborative efforts. Each of us has only a part of the information or expertise we need to get complex jobs done. The network or team of people of whom we can reach out for information and expertise is increasingly important. We have come to depend on the group mind as never before. Everything is done collaboratively. There are hardly any lone geniuses. Social intelligence matters immensely for success in a world where work, especially research and development is done in teams. There must be ability to pull people together, to attract colleagues to the work, to create the critical mass for research.

Research has shown that when the team works reasonably well, the group score will be greater than the average individual score. But when the team has real synergy, its score far exceeds even the best individual score. When teams operate at their best, the results are more then simply additive: they are multiplicative.

For groups to perform at their best, they need to foster a state of internal harmony. Such groups leverage the full talent of their members. Certainly, superb intellect and technical talents do not make people great team members. The extra element that makes a team great is a strong emotional bond amongst its members. This bond is crucial to morale and effectiveness, enabling each group to work well and excel under extraordinary pressures.

Teams are everywhere in business. There are the instant, ad-hoc teams called into being over the course of a meeting, or a short-lived virtual group working together on a one-time project. The ability to make everyone on a team love what they are doing together is at the heart of team building and team leadership. It is arrived through a combination of shared competitive drive, strong social bonds and confidence in each other’s abilities. These are the kind of teams that are successful in today’s entrepreneurial high-tech organisations. And the best team leaders are those able to get everyone to buy into a common sense of mission, goals and agenda.


The good news is all emotional competencies can be cultivated with the right practice. Unlike IQ, they can improve tremendously throughout life. In the normal course of a lifetime, emotional intelligence tends to increase as we learn to be more aware of our moods, to handle distressing emotions better, to listen and empathise. In the new workplace, with its emphasis on flexibility, teams and a strong customer orientation, this crucial set of emotional competencies is becoming increasingly essential for excellence in every job.

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Inside this issue
Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in University Students
Summary of Chan Cheng's EQ For Youths For You
Emotional Intelligence and Careers